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Communities Around Fort Campbell Brace For Word On Budget Cuts

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to learn now about what it means when America cuts its military - not about how many dollars are saved or spent but what defense cuts mean to communities. Right now, people living near Army installations are bracing for the worst. We're going to hear from two places - first, Fort Campbell. Here's Emily Siner from member station WPLN.

EMILY SINER, BYLINE: Fort Campbell is like a small city. It sits on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky and is home to the 101st Airborne. On a normal day, more than 30,000 people go to work there, some in uniform, some not. The Army already deactivated two brigades last year, and right now, people are on edge because the Army says it might cut the workforce in half.

NANCY COLE: It's hard for us to completely comprehend the fact that they're talking about cutting as many soldiers as they are.

SINER: Nancy Cole is a realtor on the Tennessee side. Her son is stationed at Fort Campbell.

COLE: Without Fort Campbell here, this place will become a ghost town.

SINER: Cole says the Army post and the community around it are intertwined. She's driving me around Clarksville, pointing out just how much the post means this place. She pulls up to the edge of a subdivision, full of two-story suburban homes.

COLE: You can knock on these doors, and I'm telling you, like, everybody here would have some type of a military connection.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND)

SINER: And those residents turned up at a listening session this week to protest possible cuts. Local leaders advertised the event held at Fort Campbell on billboards almost an hour away in Nashville. Nearly 2,000 people showed up. And the post had to turn away another 2,500 for lack of space.

(SOUNDBITE OF LISTENING SESSION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We asked if you have found a seat - so please be seated.

SINER: The lieutenant governor of Kentucky came. So did the governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, who said soldiers and veterans want to live in the area.

(SOUNDBITE OF LISTENING SESSION)

GOVERNOR BILL HASLAM: I said, so tell me - why have you all - everyone of you has ended up here. And they said, because of everywhere we lived, this place treated us better than anyone else.

SINER: But the big turnout won't necessarily convince the Army, which has to make tough choices as it tightens its budget. So residents are also making the case that Fort Campbell is a good deal for the Army. Jack Smith, a former captain, told Army officials they couldn't top Fort Campbell's aviation infrastructure or the mild weather, which allows soldiers to train almost year-round.

(SOUNDBITE OF LISTENING SESSION)

JACK SMITH: So my challenge is - find a better value for your training dollar. And I said before, my answer is I've done homework, and I know you can't.

SINER: The Army's holding these listening sessions all over the country since 30 installations could face cuts. Decisions are expected in late spring. For NPR News, I'm Emily Siner in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.